Farmington mayor: Racial violence won't be tolerated

By Jan-Mikael Patterson
Navajo Times

FARMINGTON, May 21, 2010

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(Times photo - Leigh T. Jimmie)

ABOVE: Farmington's Community Relations Commission, chaired by David John, second from left, listens to Mayor Tommy Roberts on Tuesday in Farmington.

BELOW: Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts.

City officials here met with Navajo human rights advocates in a joint effort to issue a single message Tuesday at City Hall.

"Regardless of race this kind of violence will not be tolerated," said Robert Mayes, Farmington's city manager.

The meeting was called to air the city's official report on an April 30 incident involving a mentally challenged Navajo man, 22, who was lured from a Main Street eaterie and brutalized for hours by three young local men.

They eventually branded a swastika into his arm. A swastika also was shaved into the victim's hair and his body was covered in lewd drawings and white supremacist slogans, made with permanent marker.

Investigators subsequently found other items related to the white supremacist movement at the apartment where the incident took place, prompting state and federal prosecutors to consider charging the perpetrators with hate crime.

One of the suspects is half Navajo, however, and investigators are looking into other theories as well.

"We will be vigilant that these authorities pursue this case aggressively," said Duane "Chili" Yazzie, chairman of the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, adding that the city has responded appropriately to the crime.

"I want to reaffirm the city's commitment to equity, fairness and justice for all members of races and culture in this community," said Farmington Mayor Tommy Roberts. "I want an environment for people to feel comfortable with, a community to feel comfortable and feel welcome to conduct their business. There are people that work, play and socialize here.

"We are committed to seeing that happen," he said.

"These were senseless, mindless acts committed by ignorant people," Roberts said. "I would expect aggressive prosecution of these individuals and I would expect severe punishment."

The investigation began with an emergency phone call placed by a 7-2-11 convenience store clerk to whom the victim appealed for help, Mayes explained in a brief but detailed description of events.

From the investigation came the arrests of the three suspects - Jesse Sanford, 23, William Hatch, 28, and Paul Beebe, 26.

"It's now in the judicial process and we have to let the process work in its natural way," Roberts said, noting that upon being informed of what had taken place, he immediately called President Joe Shirley Jr.

"I just want to emphasize that the Navajo Human Rights Commission had already stated that we would defer to the (Farmington) Community Relations Commission and we will continue to look to their leadership," Yazzie said.

"Farmington is here and it's not going anywhere," said David John, chairman of the city's Community Relations Commission. "The Navajo Nation is also here and that's not going anywhere as well.

"As for the mentally challenged (victim), it is something the commission will look into," John said.

As for Hatch, a Fruitland, N.M., resident whose mother is reportedly Navajo, Yazzie said, "Whoever the perpetrators are of such a crime, they should be dealt with appropriately."

"As for the Hatch family of Fruitland, they are very good people and have a good relationship with the community," Yazzie said. "It is extremely unfortunate that it had to be him. The family has strong ties to the community and to them we offer our prayers. It is unfortunate that this had to happen."

The Community Relations Commission requested to be continuously updated on the case by the city.

"I've been here in Farmington for 30 years now," John said. "All of the incidents that have happened in the past, this is the first time that I can recall that an incident like this has been addressed this way."

John reiterated that the city is a safe place for people. He acknowledged that the city has had a reputation for mistreatment of Navajos for as long as he had lived there, but said the past is not the present reality.

"I have a business here and there are many others that also have businesses within the city that have been here for a long time," he said. "It seems like when I travel to Albuquerque or Phoenix, when I get asked where I'm from, people start saying, 'Oh that town is bad' or 'that town is racist.'

"People are labeling the city," John said. "We need to educate people and work together."

As for the latest incident, those at the meeting agreed they hope it will be an incident from which the community can learn.

"This is the first time I've heard or seen any activity of white supremacist groups," said John, who is Navajo. "I don't know if there are any organized groups currently."

Native Americans make up 23 percent of the city's population, according to the 2006-08 American Community Survey. The same survey notes that 53 percent of the residents identify themselves as white and another 19 percent consider themselves Hispanic.

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